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By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - Is the transition complete for the Colorado Avalanche?

One of the NHL's elite franchises since moving from Quebec in the mid-1990s - including a pair of Stanley Cup championships - the Denver-based juggernaut squeaked into the playoffs as a No. 7 seed last spring and was later eliminated from the postseason via an inglorious four-game sweep by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Whether the "new NHL" means a continuing decline for the Avs remains to be seen.

A veteran symbol of the team's long run at the top, center Joe Sakic, will be in the fold for at least another season after he signed a one-year contract in June. The 37-year-old is entering his 18th season with the franchise, stretching back to its former identity as the Quebec Nordiques.

Sakic scored 32 goals and added 55 assists for the Colorado in 2005-06.

Also staying put will be last year's rookie sensation Marek Svatos, who scored 32 goals in 61 games before missing the remainder of the season with a fractured right shoulder. The Slovakia native - a seventh-round selection in the 2001 draft - would up third among NHL rookies in goal scoring.

Another veteran, forward Andrew Brunette, decided to stay put for the long term by signing a one-year contract extension following a season in which he played all 82 games and scored a career-best 24 goals to go with 39 assists. The 6-foot-1, 212-pound left wing has 145 goals and 262 assists in 624 career games.

Other additions include free-agent signee Tyler Arnason from Chicago and defenseman Jordan Leopold, who came over from Calgary in the deal that sent forward Alex Tanguay to the Flames. The other most notable departure was long- time standout defenseman Rob Blake, who signed with the Los Angeles Kings as a free agent.

Off the ice, general manager Pierre Lacroix stepped down after 10 seasons and will remain solely as team president. Hired on to replace him in the GM's role was Francois Giguere, who'd spent the last five seasons as an assistant GM in Dallas and was previously an assistant to Lacroix from 1995-99.

FORWARDS - The aforementioned Sakic and new kid in town Arnason headline Colorado's playmakers at center.

Arnason, 27, scored 13 goals and had 32 assists while splitting his 2005-06 season between Ottawa and Chicago. He established career highs with 22 goals and 33 assists with the Blackhawks in 2003-04.

Also on hand for the future is Paul Stastny, the 20-year-old son of Peter Stastny, a star in the 1980s for the Nordiques.

Brunette and veteran Steve Konowalchuk add experience on the left side, along with tough guy Brad May, who had 82 penalty minutes in his first season with Colorado.

Antti Laaksonen scored 16 goals for the Avalanche last season and 20-year-old prospect Wojtek Wolski had a goal and three assists in eight playoff games.

On the right side, Svatos returns for his second season and is complemented primarily by veteran Milan Hejduk, whose goal totals have plummeted from a career-high 50 in 2002-03 to 24 last season.

The 30-year-old nonetheless remained a power-play threat, scoring 14 times with the man-advantage.

Ian Laperriere had 21 goals and 24 assists last season in his first year with Colorado after scoring 10 goals with the Kings in 2003-04.

DEFENSE - Blake left for his former environs in Los Angeles, but the Avalanche did re-sign the blue line tandem of Karlis Skrastins and Brett Clark, which combined for 12 goals and 38 assists as part of a defensive unit that was tied for first in the league in goals scored.

Skrastins appeared in all 82 games for the fifth straight season and was second to ex-Buffalo rearguard Jay McKee with 207 blocked shots.

Veteran Ken Klee came in the off-season from New Jersey, where he scored three goals and added 12 assists last season, and the Avalanche retained emerging talent John-Michael Liles, who posted 14 goals and 35 assists in 2005-06.

Also on hand are ex-Flame Leopold and 35-year-old Patrice Brisebois, who scored 10 goals with Colorado after coming over from the Montreal Canadiens.

GOALTENDING - Jose Theodore was 18-18 with an .882 save percentage in his initial stint with the Avalanche, then 4-5 overall in the team's early postseason demise.

He retains the No. 1 position heading in to the season, but could conceivably be challenged at some point by Peter Budaj, who was retained in the off-season after going 14-10 with a .900 save percentage as a part-time starts last year.

The future may one day lie with prospect Tyler Weiman, a 22-year-old who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs in at 165 pounds.

http://146.145.120.3/default.asp?c=hockeynews&page=nhl/news/ADN4042185.htm
 
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